Jim Terrie is a risk management consultant and former Africa analyst with International Crisis Group.
Michael Wesley's thought-provoking series, 'Back to Bipolarity', puts Africa in the 'Atlantic sphere'. In his first post, Michael writes:
On one side of the new bipolar divide is an Atlantic community, which includes the Americas, Europe and Africa. The Atlantic community places great hope in the progress of global institutions and norms such as the Responsibility to Protect, and believes strongly in the prospect of building a non-conflictual, 'post-modern' international system by way of regional and global institutions.
Indeed, it has been Africans and Latin Americans at the forefront of extending post-modern norms: witness the African Union's rejection of non-intervention in favour of a norm of 'non-indifference' in its July 2000 Constitutive Act, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's call for a norm of 'responsibility while protecting' in her address to the General Assembly in September 2011.
The colonial and Cold War influences of Europe and North America are deep and create potential for such an 'Atlantic' alignment, but there are a number of challenges to realising it.
Defining 'Africa' itself is problematic. Most obviously, despite the geographical and institutional associations, the divide between North and sub-Saharan Africa is significant (where Arab North Africa and the Middle East fit into Michael's classification warrants a separate discussion). Underlying the historical and cultural differences is an ethnic and racial dynamic that has in part driven the conflicts in Sudan. This was also apparent in the conflict in Libya, which saw atrocities against Africans by the liberation forces.
Even within sub-Saharan Africa there are significant differences, perhaps most apparent politically when 'leadership' of the continent is discussed. Most Africans don't subscribe to Western assumptions to the rightness of leadership claims by South Africa, Nigeria or Egypt.
The Responsibility to Protect remains highly problematic. While there may be a greater tendency towards 'non-indifference', non-interference remains the norm. The AU provided little restraint on Khartoum's campaign in Darfur and was largely irrelevant during the uprising against Qadhafi (the self-proclaimed 'King of Africa'). Encouragingly, a number of newer African leaders have spoken out against depots such as Mugabe. More recently, the new President of Malawi spoke against Bashir of Sudan, who, while wanted by the International Criminal Court, retains the support of the African Union (AU), often moving freely around the continent.
Within Africa there is, often understandably, much distrust of global institutions, whether it is the World Bank, UN or ICC. Much of the momentum to reform the former Organisation of African Unity and promote the AU is driven by this distrust. How much the AU itself can meet these expectations remains to be seen, especially given the weakness of many of its constituent members.
While there are many positive things happening in Africa, the blight of conflict and fragility remains: Mali, once touted as evidence of democratic progress, has witnessed a coup; Kenya remains a political and ethnic powder keg; Mugabe still wields power in Zimbabwe; the LRA remains unchallenged; Eastern Congo remains in a cycle of violence and misery for millions; and Africa's newest nation, South Sudan, is on the brink of a return to its 30-year conflict with Khartoum.
Among African elites, there remains residual 'non-aligned' sentiment, most notably in the ANC. Add to this the growing 'no questions asked' influence of China and we may see a reluctance to move towards an Atlantic community and an attempt to negotiate a middle path instead.
Photo by Flickr user Emmaline.